5 Reasons to Consider a Unified Bible Study Curriculum

20 02 2014

And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself… They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” Luke 24:27, 32

I am struck by the change that took place in Cleopas as a result of Jesus’ teaching of scripture.  It was not just Jesus conveying information about God’s Word. It was a life-changing encounter with the Word become flesh.  It gives us all cause to re-examine how that process of teaching scripture  happens in our own churches.

scriptureAt my home church, we call it Re:Verse.  It is not just a method of studying scripture…for many of us, it is a lifestyle.  The pattern is simple: we all read through the same passage all week long, meditating on it daily. Our Sunday morning Bible Study groups all teach it and discuss it. Our sermons in all our Sunday morning worship services are from that passage as well.  Our small groups (we call them “Circles of 6”) meet during the following week and discuss the same passage even further, pressing practical applications into one another.  In the end, there is not just an understanding of what the passage says, there is actual, measurable change in our lives.

So, as a believer in this system, I offer you these reasons why you might want to consider some similar type of approach in your own church:

1. Gathered worship is much more “gathered” when every participant has spent the week studying the same passage.  There is just a common frame of reference, which makes the worship all the more special.

2. The scripture becomes central to my day…it becomes the lens through which I see and understand my life, rather than my life being the lens through which I see and understand the scripture.  It just makes a huge difference when I allow God’s Word to set the agenda for my day, rather than bringing my own agenda to my study of God’s Word.  And knowing my closest friends are doing the same thing with the same passage is encouraging.

3. The pastor is much less likely to be accused of “shooting at people” from the pulpit, because he is no longer choosing the passage…he is just using the same passage everyone else is using.  In a healthy church, where trust is high, this is not a big deal.  But in a church where trust is damaged and leadership is under constant scrutiny, this is a big advantage.

4. For speakers, teachers, writers and other communicators, the weekly passage becomes the automatic source for lessons throughout the week…no more writer’s block!  All of my Thursday blog posts, as well as my Monday night bible studies and Tuesday night committee meeting devotionals and weekend speaking engagements are informed by the same scripture passage for that week.  There is a strong sense that God is providing the topic, and all I have to do is teach it.

5. It can transform Sunday lunches with the family.  Think about it.  Every family member has just been through both a Sunday morning bible study and a sermon and worship experience built around the same scriptural truths.  Suddenly, there is something for us all to talk about together, even though we went to separate Bible studies and worship services.

I know, I know. There are a hundred or so reasons why moving to a unified curriculum would be a real challenge for your church. You may even argue it is altogether impossible. Believe me when I tell you, it was no walk in the park for my church to get there either. It took years.  But, my, how it was worth the journey!

For now, maybe stressing about HOW is not what matters…maybe what matters is whether your church is creating an environment where people’s encounter with scripture leaves them saying, “Were not our hearts burning within us?”

© Blake Coffee
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. For web posting, a link to this document on this website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Blake Coffee.  Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: © Blake Coffee. Website: churchwhisperer.com




Game-changing Moments and the Church

18 02 2014

Tuesday Re-mix:

Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?” But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.  Mark 16:2-5

These women had two sleepless nights to start their grieving process.  They had something along the lines of 36 hours to mourn their loss and to begin dealing with the harsh reality of life without Jesus.  It had to have been painful and scary and confusing.  As soon as the Sabbath was over, they started together for the tomb to take care of one bit of unfinished “business”.  They were busy making their plans on their way there.  Their biggest concern was how they would roll away the stone.  It was in the midst of that mundane concern and preoccupation that God provided a game-changing turn of events…the empty tomb.

I think it is God’s nature to change the game on us, His people.  I believe his ways are so very different from our ways, His thoughts so far removed from our thoughts, that we will encounter this type of “this-changes-everything” moment often in the church if we are truly seeking after Him.  But we don’t dare miss them, right?  Here are some observations about the church and our opportunity in this regard…

1.  While you’re waiting, continue doing the last thing you knew you were supposed to be doing.  Grief is a debilitating thing.  It would have been easy for these women to just stay at home and grieve.  But there was something to be done…and they set out to do it.  Aren’t we glad they did?  As a church, we must remain faithful to the tasks and the ministries God has given us, even as we wait and watch expectantly for His next assignment.

2.  Don’t get distracted or discouraged by difficulties.  If these women thought and acted like so much of the church today, they may well have stopped short of ever arriving at the empty tomb.  Their thoughts and conversation might well have been: “Wait, we have no way to move the stone away!  We have no idea how that will happen.  That seems like an insurmountable task…maybe God just isn’t in this.  Let’s just go back and pray and wait for God to answer this problem.”  Yikes!  Can you imagine missing this entire event?  Just because we don’t have all the answers to all the problems doesn’t mean God is not in it.  Give Him a chance!

3.  Be amazed, even afraid…but be watchful.  Walking up and seeing the stone already rolled away, I suppose there were several options for these women.   They could have run away in fear.  They could have stopped dead in their tracks.  Or they could continue into the tomb with eyes wide open, investigating further.  When God reveals Himself to us in a God’sized way, that is no time to back away.  That’s an invitation to lean in!

4.  Have a communication plan ready.  It is so very much like God to task these women with the job of going and telling.  That, after all, is what God’s people have always been tasked with doing, right?  Our mission, our very purpose for existing, is essentially a communications purpose.  It seems to me, then, that we should be really, really good at communicating!  We should have some rock-solid systems already in place for telling the stories of the God-sized, game-changing moments in our church’s life.

I know, I know…the whole reason these are often game-changing moments is that we don’t see them coming!  It’s awfully hard to prepare for something like that, right?  Nevertheless, isn’t it scary to think that we could miss a moment like that for our church, just because we weren’t watching for it nor expecting it?

© Blake Coffee
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. For web posting, a link to this document on this website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Blake Coffee.  Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: © Blake Coffee. Website: churchwhisperer.com




God Uses Our Silence

13 02 2014

When day came, the assembly of the elders of the people gathered together, both chief priests and scribes. And they led him away to their council, and they said, “If you are the Christ, tell us.” But he said to them, “If I tell you, you will not believe, and if I ask you, you will not answer. But from now on the Son of Man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God.” So they all said, “Are you the Son of God, then?” And he said to them, “You say that I am.”  Luke 22:66-70

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. Romans 1:16

silenceWatching Jesus verbally spar with the teachers of the law all through the gospels just makes it harder for us to understand how he could be essentially silent during those last two days before Pilate and Herod and the chief priests.  There were so many things he could have said…so many ways he could have embarrassed them!

Doesn’t it seem to you that he had some moral and spiritual obligation to have said more to them?  Do you wonder whether any of his followers accused him of being ashamed of the gospel, because he wouldn’t speak up when he could have…when he should have?  I mean, he KNEW the truth! Is it ever wrong to just speak the truth?  Isn’t this the truth that sets men free?  These are the questions rattling around in my head as I read the accounts of Jesus in Court before his crucifixion.  And, of course, I ask them satirically, because these are all the same arguments I think we, the church, often make to support our “speaking” into issues today.

It occurs to me that a lot of horrible and embarrassing things have been done and said by the church over the centuries (and maybe especially in the last couple of decades) under the banner of “not being ashamed of the gospel”.  For Christ-followers, Romans 1:16 has become like the get-out-of-jail-free card in Monopoly, purportedly excusing anything and everything we want to say to the lost and broken world around us…when they start acting lost and broken.

I think Jesus demonstrates another strategy for us. I think he shows us that there are actually moments and circumstances when God can use our silence every bit as powerfully as He can use our voices.  Why didn’t Jesus speak? Maybe it was because he knew the hearts of the men questioning him and wasn’t going to waste the energy. Maybe it was because it was unnecessary, because everything was on track and moving exactly in the direction he knew God had ordained.  Maybe the truth really does set men free and being set free was not at all what he needed at the moment.

Jesus teaches us that there is a time to speak and there is a time to be silent.  We, the church, have got to exercise some discernment about which is which.  After all, God can use our silence!

© Blake Coffee
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. For web posting, a link to this document on this website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Blake Coffee.  Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: © Blake Coffee. Website: churchwhisperer.com




Bright Ideas Doomed to Fail

3 02 2014

Monday Morning Quarterback – Encouraging God’s people to be responsible, encouraging and uplifting in their use of social media.

I’ve not failed.  I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.  Thomas Edison, on his experiments with prototypes for the light bulb

broken lightbulbIf I call myself a Christ-follower, and I’m not afraid to wear that label publicly, then it seems right to me that I should have some pretty strong buy-in to the great commission in Matthew 28: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  It is why we, as Christians, are still here…still breathing.  Even after our salvation is secured, God leaves us here in order to fulfill this commission.

If that is all true, then our messaging on social media becomes purposeful, doesn’t it?  We want to use our very public, very searchable, very permanent social media posts to point to God in some fashion…or at least to preserve our privilege to do so with readers in the future. So, in the spirit of Thomas Edison, here are some messages for us as Christians, which are guaranteed NOT TO WORK:

1. The candidate you voted for is… [an idiot, a liar, a lunatic, a buffoon, a criminal, a bigot, a murderer, etc.].  I don’t know, call me narrow-minded, call me naive, call me a bad American…but I’m pretty sure my starting our conversation with this message is not a good strategy for getting you to listen to anything I have to say about Jesus.

2. You are… [an idiot, a liar, a lunatic, a buffoon, a criminal, a bigot, a murderer, etc.].  Kind of the same thinking as above, but even more personal.  When I use my voice to call people out in this way, I may as well have just decided I do not want to tell them anything at all about Christ.

3. You are a sinner (or are living a sinful lifestyle or are making sinful choices).  First of all, just from an informational standpoint, I’ve wasted both our time by simply stating a theological truism…because we are all sinners.  But more importantly, it’s not exactly opening line material if an actual conversation (or even a friendship) is what I am hoping for in the end.  Is it true? Yes (for both of us). Is it good strategy to get you to listen to me? No.

4. Here’s where I weigh in on this extremely emotional and divisive and controversial subject…  Do the math. If the entire country is deeply divided on the issue, then a large percentage of the people who have access to my post are going to be offended by it.  If my goal is to build bridges for us to have honest and open conversations, so that I can share with you about the most important thing in  my life (Jesus), why would I start the conversation with a slap in your face?

5.  I have a deep seated need to be a part of a tribe, and here’s the tribe I choose and the colors I wear and if you find it offensive, it’s your problem and not mine.  Tribes are a funny thing.  We all have them.  We all need them.  And there are ways for me to talk about my tribe that are calculated to minimize the offense to those who are not in it.  But when I throw it in your face and just expect you to “deal with it”, because you happened across my Twitter feed, I am losing my ability to speak truth into your life.

These are just some opening lines that seem guaranteed to fail to me.  How about you?  What opening lines have you seen Christ followers use that were ill-conceived and doomed from the outset?

© Blake Coffee

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. For web posting, a link to this document on this website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Blake Coffee.  Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: © Blake Coffee. Website: churchwhisperer.com




Apples of Gold

30 01 2014

And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” Luke 20:8

He said to them,“Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”  Luke 20:25

apples of goldLuke 20 brings us two encounters between Jesus and his culture which centered around his authority.  By this time, of course (late in Jesus’ ministry on earth), the tension was mounting and the danger building…not unlike some of the “culture wars” in which the church finds itself today.  There are plenty of opportunities for us to speak into those divisions.  Of course we want to speak truth.  But we can speak truth with hearts at war or we can speak truth with hearts set on healing.

Our words can be “fitly spoken, like apples of gold…” or they can “curse people who are made in the likeness of God.”  The choice is ours.  And the model is Jesus.

In the first passage (Luke 20:1-8), the chief priests, scribes and elders questioned Jesus about the authority with which he was acting.  They were baiting him into what they presumed would be blasphemy, but Jesus would not bite.  He would not lower himself to engage in a war of words.  Oh, he could have…He knew the truth.  He could have justified hammering them with that truth.  He could have convinced himself that he was not afraid of the gospel and that it was time to take a stand for truth.  He could have used pretty much any of the excuses we use today to blast our culture with “the truth”.  But he sidestepped the entire engagement. He modeled restraint and held his tongue, even on a hot topic such as his spiritual authority in this world.  Sometimes, we are much better off in today’s culture showing some restraint and biting our tongues as well.

In the second passage (Luke 20:19-26), the chief priests and scribes got more creative, sending spies to do their dirty work.  These spies asked seemingly innocent questions fed to them by the scribes and designed to trip Jesus up…in this instance, questions about his views on politics (governmental authority and taxes).  Again, he sidestepped the argument with a simple truism: if it belongs to Caesar, then give it to him…if it belongs to God, then give to him.  No opinions here about whether it actually does belong to Caesar…no public statements about what a buffoon Caesar really is…no facebook posts ridiculing Caesar and the entire Roman occupation as a violation of human rights…none of that at all.  Again, he modeled restraint.  And so should we, as the church.

Jesus had all the authority of Heaven with him, and nobody has ever (or will ever) have more truth on his side than Jesus did.  And he showed unbelievable discernment on the issue of when to speak and when to stay quiet.  As the body of Christ, shouldn’t we do the same?  In representing the authority of Christ on earth, shouldn’t God’s people be just as discerning in how we use our words?

Apples of gold, my friends…apples of gold.

© Blake Coffee
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. For web posting, a link to this document on this website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Blake Coffee.  Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: © Blake Coffee. Website: churchwhisperer.com




Seeing Jesus in the Church

23 01 2014

He entered Jericho and was passing through. And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way.  Luke 19:1-4

stained glass JesusMake no mistake. God was at work in the heart of Zacchaeus, drawing him toward Him.  God placed a yearning in his heart that would make this wealthy businessman climb a tree like a child in order to get a glimpse of Jesus as he passed by.  God still does that.  He is still in the business of drawing people to Himself.  And whether or not all the marketing surveys show it, He is still drawing those people to the body of Christ…His church.

The question is, are we doing our part to make sure an unbelieving world can actually see Jesus in us when they look?  When God stirs their hearts to go to some lengths to “climb trees” in order to get a glimpse of Jesus in us, are we conducting ourselves in a way that helps?

When a watching world looks at our social media posts, do they see Jesus?

When the gay waiter serves our table, will he see Jesus?

When our  banker sees how we handle our finances, does she see Jesus?

When those people who voted for the other party in the last election show up at our church, do they see Jesus?

When that  telemarketer calls our house, will he hear Jesus in us?

When that staff member gossips about us, will he look and see Jesus in us?

When that embittered, divisive congregant blows up yet another church business meeting, will she see Jesus in you?

God is still doing His part.  He is still drawing people to the church.  The question is, how are we doing with our part?

© Blake Coffee
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. For web posting, a link to this document on this website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Blake Coffee.  Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: © Blake Coffee. Website: churchwhisperer.com




Best Not to Comment on Things We’ve Never Read

13 01 2014

Monday Morning Quarterback – Encouraging God’s people to be responsible, encouraging and uplifting in their use of social media.

I could probably spend the entire year using the recent “Phil Robertson/Duck Dynasty” social media frenzy as illustrations for this series of posts.  I think we, as the church, probably showed a broader range of “how not to use social media” with that outbreak than with any other popular issue in recent memory.  We may come back to that well often for these Monday Morning Quarterback posts!

One of the embarrassing things I saw happening (often) in the posts and comments, even from Christian leaders, was arguments which made it obvious the person had not even read Mr. Robertson’s actual comments.  As an attorney, setting out to either attack or defend something I have not even read seems, well, a little crazy.  But what I read was worse than that.  I saw arguments posted that were just plain ignorant.

Constitution

For example, I saw Christian leaders couching Mr. Robertson’s statements (and the A&E Network’s backlash) as being a “free speech” issue.  And that’s when all the lawyers and genuine journalists (and other students of the United States Constitution) cringed with embarrassment.  That is because people who have actually read the First Amendment of the United States Constitution know all about the requirement of “state action” in order to trigger a First Amendment argument.  Here’s the actual pertinent language of the amendment, with appropriate emphasis added…

Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech…”

When we, as church leaders, go public with our discussions of important issues (like the Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights), we really do make the church look foolish when we do not do our homework.  I’m not contending here that we have to be experts before we can post something on Facebook, I am only suggesting that, ANYONE who takes the 15 seconds to actually Google the Bill of Rights or the First Amendment can read the language I’ve cited above and can see that Phil Robertson’s situation had nothing to do with any law passed by Congress abridging his freedom of speech.  Rather, it had to do with a private enterprise taking issue with something someone under contract with them said.  Not a First Amendment issue at all. Not even close.

And, by the way, not only do we appear ignorant when we post such comments, but we appear ignorant when we link to them or “share” them or forward them in e-mails as well.  In our haste to join the argument (or to be the first to get a blog post up on the subject), we don’t bother to do our homework and we end up looking ignorant. Or worse.

On the positive side of this concern, I also saw plenty of responsible church leaders actually making this same observation and “correcting” our brothers and sisters on these same issues.  Of course, by that time, the embarrassment was already done…and the damage to the church’s testimony done as well.

And, in the final analysis, protecting the testimony of God’s people (and God’s message) is so very much what these issues are always going to boil down to.

© Blake Coffee
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. For web posting, a link to this document on this website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Blake Coffee.  Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: © Blake Coffee. Website: churchwhisperer.com